Murals going up in downtown for ArtsFest MONTANA

In the year since internationally known Cameron Moberg painted his first murals in downtown Great Falls, he’s noticed increased foot traffic and vitality.

Moberg is back in town this week for the city’s first ArtsFest MONTANA, which includes a workshop with Montana artists, mural installation and walking tours of the murals around town.

Great Falls’ first ArtsFest kicks off this weekend

Moberg won the Street Art Throwdown, is well-known artist among the street art community and painted murals last fall on the side of Dragonfly Dry Goods along 5th Street North and the Hi-Line Climbing Center.

This week, he’s completed a buffalo mural on the alley side of Enbär at 8 5th St. S.

Jenna Morello, a Brooklyn based muralist, is installing murals on the side of Speaking Socially on 1st Avenue North and Moberg, with the workshop artists, is installing murals in the alley behind Dragonfly. Artists in the Friday workshop will be painting murals with Moberg and local artist Sheree Nelson on Friday and Saturday.

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Jenna Morello painting at Speaking Socially on 1st Avenue North. Photo courtesy Speaking Socially.

While painting the buffalo mural, Moberg said he was able to use techniques that he hasn’t used before since the buffalo hair is different than other animals he typically paints.

“I was nervous at first,” Moberg said.

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Buffalo mural on the side of Enbar at 8 5th St. S. Photo by Andrea Fisher | The Electric

He was standing in the alley the other night looking at his nearly completed buffalo mural and trying to figure out what wasn’t quite right.

As he was looking from the mural to the photo he was using as a guide, an intoxicated man walked by, looked up and said “the nose is too small,” and walked away, Moberg said.

Moberg said he looked at the photo again and realized the man was right and updated the art.

Most of the workshop participants are artists but not muralists, he said, and the goal is to teach them techniques for painting on a large scale and give them experience so they’re ready when the mural festival expands in Great Falls.

Thirteen artists are participating in the workshop and nine are training on the wall in the alley behind Dragonfly Dry Goods.

For that wall, Moberg said they’re painting multiple separate murals versus one continuous scene since there isn’t space for people to back far enough away to see or photograph the entire scene.

On Friday, the artists were designing and creating on the spot, Moberg said. “It’s super cool.”

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Cameron Moberg and others outline a new wolf mural on the wall in the alley behind Dragonfly Dry Goods. Photo by Jenn Rowell | The Electric

Leaf Argotti of Great Falls has created art for some of the traffic signal boxes around town and wanted to participate in the workshop to learn more about murals.

“I think it’s great to leave your mark on the town,” she said on Friday. “And be involved in the community.”

She’d never worked with a spray can before the workshop and said she enjoyed learning the history of street art and its evolution.

Argotti said the murals make her curious to come downtown to see the artwork and it can encourage people to go to the businesses with murals.

“It creates curiosity,” she said.

On Friday, she was working on a mural of a Rainbow trout on the alley wall behind Dragonfly. It’s the same design she painted on a traffic signal box in town.

“It’s very Montana,” she said.

On Saturday, Moberg said the alley was special and “so diverse. It’s literally an art walk.”

He said allowing creatives to be creative “projects to visitors and people that come here that this is a creative city.”

Moberg is hoping to continue the murals down the entire alley and wrap around the corner since the project is about creating art, “but also, how do we create foot traffic and flow.”

Moberg said they’re putting thought into where to place murals that connect the existing murals and businesses that have them, envisioning an environment where people could have dinner somewhere near a mural, then follow the art walk to a bar for a drink.

Adding art to areas of undesirable activity can also add accountability since more photos are taken and it brings people from different walks of life together and can change the dynamics, he said.

The murals have increased foot traffic downtown, particularly along 5th Street, where people stop for selfies with the dragonfly wings or the Welcome to Great Falls postcard style mural.

Michael Hallahan, one of the owners of Enbär and The Block, said that in the year since the murals were installed across the street, they see people coming on a daily basis for selfies and photo shoots.

They submitted for the mural program “based on what we perceive as the popularity of the current murals here in town and thought it would be a great addition to this blank wall for an amazing artist like Cameron to add something to it,” Hallahan said.

Moberg said that during this visit, he’s hearing people regularly comment that they want to get apartments downtown.

“They weren’t saying that last year,” he said. “It’s creating excitement. My job is to create conversation and art that sparks conversation.”

The murals are free and available for anyone to enjoy, versus having to go to galleries or museums that might charge admission or feel unwelcoming to some, Moberg said.

During the artist workshop on Friday, Moberg said they’ll discuss the business side of being a muralist, techniques for transferring art from a canvas to walls, and the history of graffiti art.

“I don’t like teaching mural art without paying homage to what paved the way,” Moberg said.

Everyone has their own definition of what graffiti art is and opinions vary on what constitutes art versus vandalism, but to Moberg, graffiti falls under the umbrella of street art along with stencil art, murals, wheatpasting and more.

While some graffiti can be vandalism and it’s often a subjective determination, Moberg said graffiti is a style rooted in letter form with lots of rules, must be freehand and no brushes are used.

Moberg lives in San Francisco and said the city there is currently discussing rules for public art.

“They are getting to decided what is art and what isn’t,” he said.

In the future, Moberg said he believes people will study graffiti and learn about its techniques in the same vein as ancient Chinese lettering.

He incorporated graffiti techniques into the murals on the side of Dragonfly to include the mural that looks like butterflies, but “there’s not one butterfly in that mural.” Instead it’s graffiti style shapes that give the illusion of butterflies. The patterns in his bird murals across the county also include graffiti techniques, he said.

There’s a flare technique in the heart mural on the same block that involves a flick of the wrist and spray paint can manipulation that he said he would never have been able to do if he hadn’t learned to tag.

“How can I speak to the graffiti artist and the non graffiti artists at the same time,” he said of combining those techniques with mural art.

Moberg is also talking to property owners in Black Eagle and Fort Benton about the possibility of murals in those communities.

He’s in Montana now for art, but a few years ago, Moberg came to the area to work on a farm to escape city life for a bit.

The farm’s owner lived with Moberg for awhile during college and Moberg’s son’s teacher had a relative working at NeighborWorks Great Falls.

Moberg visited Great Falls over the winter of 2017 and “walked around the area and dreamed.”